NEW YORK, NY — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced settlements with two major national retailers, Big Lots Stores and Marshalls, to “Ban the Box” on initial employment applications at their Buffalo stores. The settlement will ensure that both companies comply with the local Buffalo law that prohibits employers from inquiring into criminal history on initial employment applications. In addition to satisfying the requirements of the local ordinance, both companies have taken the additional step of removing such inquiries from applications to any store in New York State.
“Obtaining meaningful employment is often the most crucial step towards reducing the chances of recidivism among formerly incarcerated persons,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “That is why my office is committed to breaking down barriers that impede rehabilitation, especially those that prevent fair access to employment.”
Several municipalities across New York State, including the three largest cities in the state: New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester, have enacted “Ban the Box” legislation. These laws prohibit employers from inquiring into the criminal history of applicants on initial employment applications. The laws were passed to eliminate the possibility of job candidates being automatically disqualified from further consideration based on a prior criminal history. Instead, the law encourages employers to consider the applicant’s qualifications first and subsequently make individualized inquiries into any criminal conviction to determine whether it is relevant to the job sought or to public safety. The Buffalo law allows employers to make inquiries later on in the hiring process, when they interview a prospective applicant.
The Attorney General’s investigation found that both Big Lots and Marshalls had distributed applications for employment that made inquiries into the criminal history of prospective applicants at their Buffalo stores. Both companies have agreed to take steps to ensure that such applications will not be made available to those seeking employment at those stores. Those steps include new policies, training, and reporting to the Attorney General’s Office. In addition, Big Lots agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $100,000, and Marshalls will pay a penalty of $95,000, while simultaneously making affirmative efforts to recruit applicants with criminal histories through an organization with expertise in training formerly incarcerated individuals.
Big Lots has 64 stores across New York State, with 1,585 associates employed at those store locations. Marshalls has 75 stores across New York State.
The companies’ commitment to “Ban the Box” on initial employment applications across New York State builds off of the longstanding initiative in the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau to enforce local, state and federal laws ensuring that formerly incarcerated individuals receive fair treatment in the employment process. The Civil Rights Bureau previously entered into agreements with Party City and Bed Bath & Beyond to ensure that the criminal records of prospective applicants were individually considered for relevance to the job sought. And, as with Marshalls and Big Lots, Party City and Bed Bath & Beyond also took the additional step of “Banning the Box” statewide, above and beyond what the law requires.
“A past conviction should never prevent someone from being able to put food on the table or pay their rent,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader and Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee. “All New Yorkers benefit when people with criminal records are able to find jobs, and contribute to our communities. Corporations don’t get to choose which laws they follow and I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for fighting to ensure companies “ban the box.”
“Good jobs can transform people’s lives and this agreement will give more New Yorkers a fair chance at transforming their own,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “We welcome Attorney General Schneiderman’s work to ensure that men and women with a conviction history have the opportunity to get a good job and a bright future. This is a key part of reforming our criminal justice system.”
“Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has once again taken a stand for what is reasonable and just by making sure that everyone has fair access to employment opportunities,” said Todd Hobler, Buffalo-based Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Countless numbers of qualified workers have been automatically excluded from being considered for employment by criminal history screens on initial employment applications. Compliance with Ban the Box laws will not only improve opportunities for ex-offenders, but will also reduce recidivism. If an employer sits down and has a conversation with someone first, before rushing to judgment, doors will open for everyone.”
“The law is clear in Buffalo – qualified job seekers cannot be unfairly discriminated against because of their criminal record histories. Local municipalities across New York State, including New York City and Rochester, have made the decision to give people with criminal records a fair chance to find work so they can rebuild their lives after incarceration. Thank you to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for holding employers accountable and ensuring that all New Yorkers have an opportunity to contribute to our economy,” said Alyssa Aguilera, Political Director, VOCAL-NY.
“Employment discrimination against someone for being formerly incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system is counterproductive to the well-being and safety of our communities,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, Director of Communities United for Police Reform. “Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to hold employers accountable are critical to advancing equal opportunity in employment for New Yorkers and the best interests of all communities. It remains equally important that racial and other forms of discrimination against job seekers be exposed and eliminated so that no discriminatory proxy prevents any New Yorker from obtaining employment.”
“Many employers in New York State value the social and economic impact that hiring individuals with barriers have on our community; and we look forward to continuing our work with the private sector to ensure that opportunities exist for anyone who wants to work,” said Jeff Conrad, State Director, Center for Employment Opportunities.
“Qualified job applicants with prior convictions often find it difficult to get their foot in the door with prospective employers, denied even the opportunity to interview,” said Emily NaPier, Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives. “We are excited that the Attorney General’s Office has worked to make the hiring process at Marshalls and Big Lots operate more fairly by breaking down unnecessary initial hurdles for applicants with criminal history records.”
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman and Ajay Saini in the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.